NFL Playoffs 2012: 50 Players You Simply Must Watch

Tony Santorsa@@TonySantorsaSenior Writer IIJanuary 6, 2012

NFL Playoffs 2012: 50 Players You Simply Must Watch

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    The NFL playoffs are the best of the best. The NFL's top teams playing against each other—what could be better?

    There's a reason why the 12 teams that made the playoffs are actually in the playoffs—because they have good players. Well, duh.

    Each and every team has some star power, and we're going to take a look at that in this piece.

    Here are 50 players that you simply must watch in the 2012 NFL playoffs. Most of these players are exciting playmakers, some are just dominant forces and some create interesting storylines.

Tom Brady

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    When it comes to playing quarterback in the AFC, you cannot get much better than Tom Brady—he is the best of the best.

    Brady finished an incredible, record-breaking 2011 season throwing for a whopping 5,235 passing yards while tossing 39 touchdowns and posting a solid 105.6 quarterback rating.

    You can argue that no quarterback is playing at a higher level than Tom Brady is right now.

Ray Lewis

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    Do I need that much description here?

    Ray Lewis is the greatest linebacker of the recent decade, and he is simply a game-changer—whether it be plays that he makes, hits that he creates or speeches that he gives.

    You have to watch Ray Lewis.

T.J. Yates

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    We all have to watch T.J. Yates this postseason. Why? Well, because he's a rookie quarterback with some decent talent around him.

    Yates has struggled as of late but posted a solid 80.7 quarterback rating in six games this season for the Houston Texans, as he completed 61.2 percent of his passes while throwing three touchdowns and three interceptions.

Anquan Boldin

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    Baltimore Ravens wide receiver Anquan Boldin may not have had the greatest season in 2011, but he's still a playmaker.

    If Joe Flacco and Boldin can get on the same page this postseason, they're going to score a lot of points. It will be must-watch TV.

Alex Smith

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    Alex Smith led the San Francisco 49ers to a No. 2 seed in 2011. He will be playing in his first postseason game next weekend.

    Smith had a solid season despite struggling in previous seasons. He posted a 90.7 quarterback rating while throwing 17 touchdowns compared to only five interceptions.

Johnathan Joseph

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    It's time to watch Houston Texans cornerback Johnathan Joseph.

    Joseph is one reason why the Texans went from being one of the worst a year ago to one of the elite in 2011. It's time see if he can shut down elite wide receivers on a regular basis.

Marques Colston

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    Marques Colston is one of the elite wide receivers in the NFL today—so why wouldn't we want to watch him?

    Colston played in 14 games this season and still found a way to record 80 receptions for 1,143 yards while scoring eight touchdowns.

Isaac Redman

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    With Rashard Mendenhall being sidelined for the remainder of the season with a torn ACL, that means Isaac Redman will be thrown into the mix as the Pittsburgh Steelers' starting running back.

    We'll have to just wait and see if he's capable of being the team's No. 1 back.

Willis McGahee

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    Willis McGahee has had one hell of a first season with the Denver Broncos in 2011.

    The Miami product has run for a whopping 1,199 yards while averaging 4.8 yards per carry and scoring four total touchdowns.

    Will McGahee be just as effective in the playoffs as he was in the regular season? I think so.

NaVorro Bowman

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    Most of you probably know who Patrick Willis is, but many of you probably have no idea who his teammate NaVorro Bowman is.

    Well, for starters, Bowman is one hell of a linebacker, as he finished 2011 with an incredible 143 tackles and two sacks.

    Do I need to say much more? Nope, the stats don't lie.

Torrey Smith

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    He may only be a rookie, but he's one of the most lethal deep-threat wide receivers in the game today.

    Torrey Smith's rookie season was a success, as he averaged a whopping 16.8 yards per reception as well scored seven touchdowns.

Vernon Davis

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    Vernon Davis may not have had the greatest season for the San Francisco 49ers, but he's still someone you need to watch.

    Davis has all the talent to be the NFL's most dominant tight end. We'll just have to wait and see if he can use it to his advantage in the postseason.

Aaron Rodgers

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    Aaron Rodgers is the likely front-runner for the 2011 NFL MVP award—how can you not want to watch him?

    Rogers has led his Green Bay Packers to an amazing 15-1 season, as he's posted unbelievable stats: a 122.5 quarterback rating, 4,643 yards, 45 touchdowns and only six interceptions in 15 games this season.

Andy Dalton

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    The Cincinnati Bengals would not be where they are today if it weren't for rookie quarterback Andy Dalton.

    Dalton has taken the Bengals to the playoffs after the team had moved on without key players such as Carson Palmer, Chad Ochocinco and Terrell Owens.

    In 16 games this season, Dalton has recorded an impressive 80.4 quarterback rating while throwing 20 touchdown passes.

Ray Rice

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    I'm going out on a limb here, but I can confidently say that Ray Rice is the NFL's top running back.

    In 2011, Rice accumulated 1,364 rushing yards while scoring 12 rushing touchdowns as well as reeling in 76 passes for 704 yards and three touchdowns.

    Ray Rice is the real deal.

Jerome Simpson

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    Why do we have to watch Jerome Simpson? Well, just in case if he does another front flip.

Ben Roethlisberger

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    Ben Roethlisberger may not be having the greatest season, but the Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback is a winner, as he's been to three Super Bowls and has won two of them.

    Big Ben is certainly primed to make yet another Super Bowl run this time around.

Ndamukong Suh

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    Why are we going to watch Ndamukong Suh this Saturday night against the New Orleans Saints? To see if he's going to stomp on anyone else!

    No, no—I'm just kidding.

    We're going to watch him because he's one beastly defensive tackle and can cause havoc at any moment of the game.

Aaron Hernandez

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    Aaron Hernandez is certainly overshadowed by the extreme success of teammate Rob Gronkowski—but he's just as much of a threat.

    Believe it or not, Hernandez is little more exciting to watch than Gronk. He's built like a tight end, catches like a wide receiver and runs like a running back—what's not to love?

Mike Wallace

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    A year ago Mike Wallace was just considered a deep-threat wide receiver, but now the Pittsburgh Steelers' No. 1 wide receiver is a well-rounded lethal offensive weapon.

    Wallace finished 2011 with 72 receptions while accumulating 1,193 yards and eight touchdowns.

Tony Gonzalez

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    Not only is Tony Gonzalez a class act, but he is one hell of a football player.

    The ageless tight end had himself a pretty solid 2011 season for the Atlanta Falcons. Gonzalez caught 80 passes for 875 yards while scoring seven touchdowns. 

Terrell Suggs

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    If you know nothing about the NFL, then you may just watch Terrell Suggs simply because he's known as "T Sizzle."

    Either way, "T Sizzle" is a monster, as he racked up 70 tackles for the Baltimore Ravens this season en route to an incredible 14 sacks. 

Frank Gore

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    Frank Gore is what pumps the San Francisco 49ers offense. Without him, the 49ers would be done for.

    Gore ran for 1,211 yards in 2011 while scoring an impressive eight touchdowns. 

LaMarr Woodley

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    Good news Steeler nation, linebacker LaMarr Woodley is expected to be ready to go this Sunday against the Denver Broncos, according to sources

    Woodley is a sack machine as he managed to record nine sacks while just playing in 10 games this season. 

Tim Tebow

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    What can I say about Tim Tebow? I mean, we all know he's must-see TV.

    I guess the only thing that I can say is that it's "Tebow time!"

Jerod Mayo

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    New England Patriots linebacker slowly emerged as one of the NFL's elite defenders a year ago as he tallied up a league-high 174 tackles.

    In 2011, Jerod Mayo played only 14 games but still found a way to accumulate 95 tackles. 

    All in all, he is a tackling machine. 

Ed Dickson

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    Ed Dickson has quietly emerged as one the game's top tight ends.

    For the Baltimore Ravens this season, Dickson connected with Joe Flacco 54 times while scoring five touchdowns. 

Wes Welker

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    Wes Welker had yet another spectacular season with the New England Patriots as he snagged 122 balls for a whopping 1,569 yards and nine touchdowns.

    Watching Tom Brady and Wes Welker play pitch-and-catch is like poetry in motion. 

Greg Jennings

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    Green Bay Packers wide receiver Greg Jennings may be a bit dinged up, but I'm sure he'll put on a show when he takes the field.

    Playing in just 13 games this season, Jennings managed to catch 67 passes for 949 yards and nine touchdowns. 

Julio Jones

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    Watch the video—that is why we must watch Julio Jones. 

    He is a freak of nature. 

Jason Pierre-Paul

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    How can we not take notice of Jason Pierre-Paul? 

    The second-year player out of USF finished 2011 with a whopping 16.5 sacks.

    At any moment, J.P.P. can record a sack. He's a machine. 

Jordy Nelson

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    Coming into 2011, not too many probably had heard of wide receiver Jordy Nelson. Well, everyone knows his name now.

    Nelson scored an unbelievable 15 touchdowns for the Green Bay Packers this season as he's caught 68 passes for 1,263 yards. 

    All in all, Nelson is one of the most dominant and lethal playmakers in the game today. 

Eli Manning

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    In my book, Eli Manning proved to the entire world that he is an elite quarterback in the NFL.

    Manning had an incredible 2011 season as he posted a 92.9 quarterback rating while throwing 29 touchdowns as he practically played with one of the worst rushing attacks in the game (the New York Giants finished the season as the worst rushing team). 

Michael Turner

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    Atlanta Falcons running back Michael Turner is just a pure beast—he is a machine.

    Turner ran for 1,340 yards this season while averaging 4.5 yards per carry as he pounded his way to 11 touchdowns. 

Victor Cruz

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    If you're into dancing, then you can watch Victor Cruz for his very entertaining salsa touchdown dance. 

    But if you're more into football, then his 82 receptions for a whopping 1,536 yards and nine touchdowns better damn well impress you. 

Chad Ochocinco

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    In Chad Ochocinco's first season as a New England Patriot, he had little to no impact.

    In 15 games this season, Ochocinco snagged 15 passes for 276 yards and one touchdown. 

    Despite Ochocinco's major struggles in 2011, he may be able to turn around his season with a few big plays here and there for the Patriots in the playoffs, where it matters the most. 

Joe Flacco

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    Joe Flacco has had some success in the playoffs but he has yet to make it to the Super Bowl—we're just going to have to wait and see if he can make things happen.

    After a lackluster 2011 season, as he posted an 80.9 quarterback rating while completing a pitiful 57.6 percent of his passes. Hopefully, for the Baltimore Ravens sake, he can turn it around. 

A.J. Green

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    When A.J. Green is one the field, it is must-see TV.

    The rookie out of Georgia has posted a Pro Bowl season with the Cincinnati Bengals as he finished 2011 with 65 receptions for 1,057 yards while scoring seven times. 

Arian Foster

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    After leading the NFL in rushing a year ago, Houston Texans running back Arian Foster has performed just as well in 2011.

    Foster finished the season with 1,224 total rushing yards while scoring 10 touchdowns. Keep in mind that he played in only 13 games. 

Roddy White

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    Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Roddy White had himself a quite impressive 2011 season.

    White snagged 100 passes for 1,296 yards while scoring eight touchdowns. 

Ed Reed

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    Ed Reed may be getting a tad bit older, but he's still one of the NFL's most dangerous defensive backs. 

    Along with Ray Lewis, Reed makes the Baltimore Ravens defense. If he has a dominant game, chances are that the Ravens will walk away with a victory. 

Calvin Johnson

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    If you're going to ask me, Calvin Johnson is by far the NFL's most dominant wide receiver. He is the best of the best.

    In 2011 he snagged 96 receptions for a whopping 1,681 yards while catching 16 touchdown passes for the Detroit Lions. 

Drew Brees

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    Why must we watch Drew Brees this Saturday night against the Detroit Lions? Well, because he is the best of the best. 

    Brees is playing the quarterback position better than anyone right now in the NFL.

    Brees is coming off of a record-setting 2011 season as he broke Dan Marino's single-season passing record as he finished with a total of 5,476 yards. 

Matt Ryan

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    They don't call Matt Ryan "Matty Ice" for nothing—he's a clutch quarterback.

    In 2011 for the Atlanta Falcons, Ryan led his team to a 10-6 record as he posted a 92.2 quarterback rating while tossing 29 touchdowns. 

Hakeem Nicks

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    I am a huge Hakeem Nicks fan. I'm not going to lie.

    Nicks has impressed me so many times in 2011, as he snagged 76 passes for 1,192 yards while scoring seven touchdowns for the New York Giants.

    Keep on the lookout for Nicks—he will shred apart your favorite team's secondary. 

Jimmy Graham

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    Aside from Rob Gronkowski, Jimmy Graham is as good as it gets—but that's just my opinion.

    The New Orleans Saints stud tight end finished the season with an impressive 99 receptions for 1,310 receiving yards while scoring 11 touchdowns. 

Matthew Stafford

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    In Matthew Stafford's first ever full season in the NFL, he proved why he was the first overall pick back in 2009.

    In all 16 games this season for the Detroit Lions, Stafford has thrown for a whopping 5,038 yards while throwing an impressive 41 touchdowns and posting a 97.2 quarterback rating. 

Patrick Willis

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    If you ask me, Patrick Willis is by far the most dominant linebacker in the NFL today.

    Willis is the key reason the San Francisco 49ers are where they are today. He's racked up nearly 100 tackles and two sacks in just 13 games this season. 

Haloti Ngata

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    I think that we can all agree that Haloti Ngata is the NFL's most dominant defensive tackle—he is an absolute monster.

    After Ngata's stellar 2010 season, he put up just as impressive numbers this season as he racked up 64 total tackles, five sacks, deflected five passes and even recorded a fumble and a scored touchdown. 

Rob Gronkowski

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    Why do you have to watch Rob Gronkowski? Well, just watch the video!

    I'll give you a hint, he spikes the hell out of the ball and he's arguably the best tight end in football.